When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today
Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.
When I was a boy there was a middle aged man who walked with a pronounced limp around our neighborhood. The rumor around among the kids of the neighborhood was that he wasn’t right in the head and that he was a drunk. His face was disfigured and we kids called him gympie, although not, mercifully, to his face. One day I remarked to my father that we called this man gympie. My father rarely got angry, but he did on that occasion. He told me that man was a hero. He had served in the Army during the Korean War, had been captured by the Chinese and had been tortured by them. They had broken his right leg repeatedly and had used branding irons on his face. He never gave in to them and would not tell them anything but his name, rank and serial number. By the time he was exchanged at the end of the war his health was destroyed and his mind had been shattered by his experiences. He returned to his home town and was cared for by his parents. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in town had annual collections for him to supplement his Army pension so he would never be in financial need. By the end of this recitation I was in tears. That day taught me the true meaning of Veterans’ Day: service above self.
Out of the focal and foremost fire,
Out of the hospital walls as dire,
Smitten of grape-shot and grangrene,
(Eighteenth battle, and he sixteen!)
Spectre! Such as you seldom see,
Little Giffen, of Tennessee.
“Take him- and welcome!” the surgeons said;
“Little the doctor can help the dead!”
So we took him and brought him where
The balm was sweet in the summer air;
And we laid him down on a wholesome bed-
Utter Lazarus, heel to head!
And we watched the war with abated breath-
Skeleton boy against skeleton death.
Months of torture, how many such!
Weary weeks of the stick and crutch;
And still a glint of the steel-blue eye
Told of a spirit that wouldn’t die.
And didn’t. Nay, more! In death’s despite
The crippled skeleton learned to write.
“Dear Mother,” at first, of course; and then
“Dear Captain,” inquiring about the men.
Captain’s answer: “Of eighty-and-five,
Giffen and I are left alive.”
Word of gloom from the war, one day;
“Johnston pressed at the front, they say.”
Little Giffen was up and away;
A tear-his first-as he bade good-by,
Dimmed the glint of his steel-blue eye.
“I’ll write, if spared!” There was news of the fight;
But none of Giffen. He did not write.
I sometimes fancy that, were I king
Of the princely knights of the Golden Ring,
With the song of the minstrel in mine ear,
And the tender legend that trembles here,
I’d give the best on his bended knee,
The whitest soul of my chivalry,
For Little Giffen, of Tennessee.